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Mainstreaming Africa’s maritime education will combat illegal activity along its littoral regions – and must be part of any capacity building

Euro-View: Marco Hekkens on African Maritime Security

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Europe’s external security is intimately linked to Africa’s maritime and port infrastructures where there is a need for qualified professionals and properly resourced personnel training programmes. One way to do this would be a ‘Maritime Education Initiative’, though this would require sponsorship at the highest level within the European Union (EU).

EU funding would be vital for a well-educated core of African maritime professionals who could act as the mainstay for international efforts centred around countering illegal maritime and transnational crime activities in Africa’s littoral and riverine environments.

The African continent has several higher-learning institutions that offer a broad range of maritime oriented courses. For example, the Regional Maritime University of Accra, Ghana – which is jointly owned and funded by five of the 25 countries belonging to the Maritime Organisation of West and Central Africa (MOWCA).

The African continent has several higher-learning institutions that offer a broad range of maritime oriented courses. For example, the Regional Maritime University of Accra, Ghana – which is jointly owned and funded by five of the 25 countries belonging to the Maritime Organisation of West and Central Africa (MOWCA).

Though these institutions do receive national and regional support, this need to be taken a step further with tailored external assistance to ensure that Africa is served by a next generation of maritime professionals who are not only well prepared, but can rely on a long-term support system that offers a network of academia and affiliated maritime institutions, plus a dynamic ‘HR-department’ with regional responsibilities, to organise maritime education information, queries, developments, career opportunities, etc.

The principle objective of the Maritime Education Initiative is to achieve personal engagement and commitment through career management; and implement a ‘one-stop’ knowledge portal for the maritime education sector.

How then to introduce and field test this ‘antidote’ against illicit activities in the littoral and, above all, ‘de-politicise’ the Maritime Education Initiative in a continent where financial resources are severely limited?

Ideally it should build on the established strategic partnership between the EU and two UN agencies: the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the UN agency which has responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships, and the UN Development Programme.

Together, they could task the African Maritime Safety and Security Agency (AMSSA) to conduct a comprehensive needs analysis and deliver a sustainable concept and roadmap for action. This would have to be done in close coordination with relevant African institutions. Create in 2007, AMSSA has a well-established institutional network across the West and Central African regions that builds on personal relations, trust and above all impartial advice.

Such a maritime education initiative could easily link to existing bilateral and multinational safety and security initiatives along Africa’s littoral waters. One example is the US African Partnership Station (APS) programme, which periodically hosts classroom and hands-on training on various maritime subjects. APS has exploited the concept of an ’embarked university’ by making use of amphibious ships that have the capacity to host large groups of students for extended periods. Other European navies have successfully participated in the APS programme with similar platforms. It is now a question of how best to align both initiatives to ensure their coherence, synchronisation with academic curricula and frequency of interaction.

Another example that could have future benefits for the maritime education initiative is the EU’s recently launched ‘NESTOR’ mission, which aims to strengthen the maritime capacities of eight countries around the Horn of Africa and the West Indian Ocean arena.

One of NESTOR’s objectives is to help train and shape the countries’ maritime surveillance capabilities. The name ‘Nestor’ is most apt in the sense that ‘Nestors’ could be seen as professionals that besides providing monitor and support functions, also design and recommend future career patterns.. And this resonates with the above-mentioned idea of a human resources department with a regional focus. Such an HR-department approach can be an ‘effects multiplier’ of choice. In simple terms, it would be tasked to manage all key positions that relate to maritime safety and security.

It would have to ensure that all current and future maritime personnel – both ashore and afloat – would have followed mandatory instruction and refresher courses and other requirements necessary to fulfil their professional duties. A major challenge, however, would be to prevent such an initiative from turning into a sluggish, administrative bureaucracy.

Thus, to help turn this idea into reality, the EU and other international actors should give serious consideration to ways to support and help fund a maritime education initiative on Africa’s behalf. This would offer benefits in both directions: for Europe and for Africa.

     Marco Hekkens is the Goodwill Ambassador of the African Maritime Safety and Security Agency (AMSSA), working from Brussels. He can be reached at: m.hekkens@gmail.com

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